School District students learn dance with Rennie Harris Puremovement March 22, 2024 – Posted in: Uncategorized

The Teachers Institute of Philadelphia (TIP) and Penn Live Arts collaborated on a program that uses dance to enhance learning for students in the School District of Philadelphia (SDP). The program brought the hip hop troupe Rennie Harris Puremovement to two schools, Carver Engineering and Science and West Philadelphia High School. The visits were part of the company’s three-year residency at Penn Live Arts. The initiative aimed to use dance to help students navigate issues like gun violence and personal identity.

For February and March of 2024, Penn Live Arts arranged for Rennie Harris dancers Rachel Snider and Justine Diggs-Cunningham and teaching artist Donnell Powell to visit students at the two schools and conduct workshops. Workshop leaders guided students in using their observations about life in their neighborhood as prompts for creative expression. The dancers and teaching artists helped students express their feelings through movement.

Teaching Artist Donnell Powell leading a workshop at Carver Engineering and Science High School. Image courtesy TIP.

At Carver, the workshops were part of a curriculum unit English teacher Geoffrey Winnikur developed while a fellow at TIP. Winikur participated in TIP’s spring 2023 Music and Healing in Philadelphia seminar, led by Penn music professor Carol Muller. Winikur’s unit delved into Black artists’ use of music, fiction and poetry to reveal what trauma means for people who experience it. Entitled What Happens When High School Students Study the Role of Trauma in Black Art, it is available for anyone to use on TIP’s website.

Rennie Harris Puremovement dancers. Image courtesy of JHsu Media

This collaborative effort between TIP, Penn Live Arts, the Rennie Harris Puremovement company and the SDP leveraged the arts to strengthen learning and promote social change in the Philadelphia community.

Founded in 2006, TIP has helped SDP teachers improve their practice by offering them seminars led by Penn and Temple professors. Participants learn cutting-edge material from their seminar leader and use it in units of study they bring back to their classroom. Those who complete the program receive a stipend and professional development credits. Since the program began, TIP has enrolled more than 500 teachers who have written over 1,000 curriculum units.